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"Bottled sunshine:
Cañon de Sol is first winery in state to be Latino-owned"

By Vicki Adame
Wine Press Northwest

Wearing blue jeans, a light blue plaid shirt and work boots, Victor Cruz emerges from a maze of dozens of oak barrels filled with fermenting wine.

His easygoing manner gives no hint that he not only owns Cañon de Sol but is also the first Latino winery owner in the state.

The 45-year-old Cruz sits in his small, white office, reminiscing about the decade-long talks between himself and childhood friend Charlie Hoppes. Those chats led to the opening of Cañon de Sol.

Cruz grew-up in Wapato where his parents, first-generation Mexican Americans, were farm laborers.

"My dad was a very hard-working man. I learned those traits - being an honest, hard worker - from him," Cruz said.

His parents also instilled a strong value for education in him and his older sister: Cruz knew education was the key to success.

He earned an engineering degree from Western Washington University. He worked for Westinghouse for years before taking an early retirement offer in 1995.

And although Cañon de Sol has seen unbelievable success since it opened to the public in 2001, Cruz is quick to caution that it was not an "overnight thing."

Cruz also gives credit where it's due.


Charlie Hoppes

It was because of Hoppes' reputation as a winemaker, Cruz said, that the winery has experienced the success it has.

The two found 45 acres tucked up against the hills in Badger Canyon. A horse barn became the barrel room.

On a late August day, the barn was filled with oak barrels, including 30 new ones that sat on the concrete floor. The scent of fermenting wine strikes the senses as soon as the door opens.

Outside, the hum of a John Deere tractor competes with the sound of construction workers finishing work on a new 5,000-square-foot barrel room.

At first glance, a visitor to the winery might think he took a wrong turn. The gravel road sits between an apple orchard on the west and a hay field on the east.

When a visitor asks where the vineyards are, Cruz laughs and admits there are none, not yet, anyway.

A buddy from Seattle said the deep-red sign with the bright yellow lettering is false advertising, Cruz said, because it reads in part winery and vineyard.

But the vineyards will come in due time. Sometime in the next five to 10 years, Cruz explained, because vineyards are hard to put in.

So for now, grapes are bought from local farmers. Cruz and Hoppes make sure they get the "best grapes possible."

When asked why he would leave the security of a well-paying job, Cruz said most people harbor the dream of owning a business.

"We (Cruz and wife Kim) were fortunate enough to have extra money set aside. And that gave me the opportunity to take those chances," Cruz said. "If I fall flat on my face here, I have that degree and experience to most likely go back and find a job in engineering."

At first Kim thought it was just "boys talking, but it was a dream we wanted," Cruz said.

He did not want to go through life wishing he had taken the chance. So in 1999, after purchasing the property that would become the home of Cañon de Sol Winery, Cruz and Hoppes crushed their first grapes. The crushing was done at Barnard Griffin Winery.

Cañon de Sol became an operational winery in 2000 and opened to the public in 2001 with two wines - a 1999 Merlot and 1999 Syrah.

"Since the opening of the gate, we have seen success of our wines," Cruz said.

Cruz has "a no-big-deal attitude" about the fact that he is the first Latino winery owner in the state, but one gets the sense he does see himself as a role model of sorts.

"I'm not just speaking about Hispanics but minorities as a whole. The opportunity is there, but it does not happen overnight," Cruz said.

He does express an interest in marketing his wine to the Latino community - but not just in Washington. He also would like to see it distributed in California, New Mexico and Texas.

"I think a Hispanic businessman may like wine from a Hispanic person," he said.

Although he is breaking new ground, Cruz said everyone in the wine making industry "has been wonderful and is never surprised at me owning a winery."

Outside the industry he does get the occasional, surprised, "You own a winery?" comment.

"I think people are still wondering how a boy from the valley who grew up in a family of farm workers got to this point," Cruz said.

 

 

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